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Dance of the Dead
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by Jason Whyte

"God is flushing the toilet. Film at 11."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2008 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL: I love zombies. There’s something about a zombie movie where the film’s human characters are placed in an inescapable situation and have to fight their way out. And rare is it the zombie comedy that comes along that makes you laugh, cheer and jump all at once. Immediately you might argue that “Shaun of the Dead” is a contender (and it kind of is), but I counter that “Dance of the Dead” is a wholly original piece of work even if it’s title is flat out Romero. This is an instant classic of the horror genre.

“Dance of the Dead” is a triumph in nearly every way; not only is an independent film that takes its small budget and runs with it, it is everything you want out of a horror comedy and more. “Dead” is equal parts hilarious, scary and bloody, and a blast of an experience that you won’t forget. It announces a raw, fearless talent in director Gregg Bishop and screenwriter Joe Ballarini, and includes a powerful cast of up-and-coming actors that you will fall in love with.

The film’s premise is very simple, but boy is it amusing…turns out that there’s a nuclear power plant next to a graveyard, which is also close to a high school that is just about to have its prom. Enter a group of young teenagers, among them Jimmy (Jared Kusnitz), Lindsey (Greyson Chadwick), Stephen (Chandler Darby) and Kyle (Justin Welborn) who, with all their friends, are not the most popular kids in school.

Joe Ballarini's smart script sticks with these slight outcasts and follows them from school and into the graveyard where they encounter a couple of zombies finding their way out of the grave. And when they realize there are fresh “brains” (read: humans, and young ones), there’s a classic moment where they literally burst out of the ground after the young characters. At this point, the film never lets up as it is up to this young, rag-tag group of kids to save the day before their prom is ruined.

What I admired is that the characters are smart, well rounded and play within of the genre. This is not your “fresh” talent from The WB or an American Pie sequel. The cast of young, raw new talent is simply awesome to watch, and we will all know these names shortly in the future. Jarred Kusnitz (also in a SxSW film this year called “Otis”) is the likable lead, and he finds just the right note to play the confused teenager who must rise to the occasion. Matching him is born-star Greyson Chadwick, who is equal parts brain and beauty. I loved a scene where Chadwick, her prom dress all bloodied up, becomes the boss of the group because no one else will. And there’s also a sequence where Justin Welborn (from the cult hit “The Signal”) single-handedly defeats an entire group of zombies is one of the film’s high points. Terrific supporting players include Mark Oliver as a wild-eyed coach, Jonathan Spencer as a teacher who becomes infected, and Chandler Darby as the young Steven.

Gregg Bishop, in his second feature (he directed “The Other Side” which screened at Slamdance and is unseen by me), shows remarkable promise as an up-and-coming director. He knows just how to make the action easy to follow but also fast as a whip, as the film never lets up once the action gets going. Somehow, he’s been able to marry the idea of zombies and bringing back our high school memories, and I thank him for that.

And the music is great. There are a few rock tunes belted out in this film – used, amazingly, to sway the zombies -- that will have your toes tapping. Adding to the fun is Kristopher Carter’s music score which reminds me of a cool mixture of John Carpenter and Graeme Revell.

As you can see, I loved “Dance of the Dead” and hope that the film, currently without distribution, will be picked up by a company that knows that there is an audience for this. A big audience. It is for the horror fans, of course, but I also think that if you’re looking for a great filmgoing experience with wit and gore to match, you’ll flat out love this. And if there’s ever an excuse for a new midnight classic, this is it.

(Side note: This film was one of the opening weekend midnight screenings at South By Southwest and the audience was treated to free beer and a confetti cannon that was blasted off at a pivotal explosion in the film. This was arguably the greatest screening of my life, and it goes to show that the Alamo Drafthouse is the best cinema experience in the world.)

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originally posted: 04/04/08 17:09:17
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2008 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2008 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/03/10 SS <3<3<3<3<3<3<3<3<3!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
12/07/08 Blake This movie is great! Gwen could eat my tongue anyday! Sexy!!! 5 stars
11/03/08 Dan F Engaging, innovative and very funny!! More fun than Shaun! 87 minutes, not 78. 5 stars
10/11/08 Matt C Saw this on ninjavideo and it was AWESOME!! Funny, scary, exciting, funny. So, so good! 5 stars
5/11/08 Tina Loved it! art, see the movie before you rate it! 5 stars
4/05/08 tareq want to see 5 stars
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  DVD: 14-Oct-2008



Directed by
  Gregg Bishop

Written by
  Joe Ballarini

  Jared Kusnitz
  Greyson Chadwick
  Justin Welborn
  Chandler Darby

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